New equality tool will help with parliamentary staff’s ‘misguided assumptions’


theweek120by150A new online resource for the House of Commons should teach MPs and their staff how to improve their interaction with disabled constituents.

Experts who developed the e-learning disability equality tool – which is also available to Commons staff – had discovered that many disabled visitors were “feeling let down” by a lack of awareness about their needs.

They had pointed to “misguided assumptions” which – although often well-intentioned – left them feeling “unimpressed”, while MPs and their staff frequently had problems arranging constituents’ access requirements and ensuring they were carried out.

The e-learning tool, launched this week in the Commons by the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington, was developed by the disabled-led Wideaware Training and Disability Rights UK, with the help of MPs and peers.

Another issue the two organisations had to address was the size of the Houses of Parliament, and the security issues faced when trying to improve access.

Maria Zedda, managing director of Wideaware Training, which specialises in disability equality training and e-learning, said: “Staff needed to find a reliable resource in a single location that would give them at a glance: a quick service know-how for specific impairments, where to find facilities and how to book them, and how to organise inclusive events to ensure all constituents and visitors can participate.”

The tool can now be accessed online by MPs, their researchers, and House of Commons staff.

It allows users to “meet” various disabled visitors, and work out how best to interact with them in different scenarios.

The tool also includes guidance on areas such as access barriers, the Equality Act, reasonable adjustments, different impairments, what to say and what not to say to disabled people, discrimination and handling complaints.

As well as links to other online parliamentary resources, there is a checklist for arranging fully accessible events.

Zedda said: “We had a very delicate task in ensuring that the training was pitched at the right level, that it was credible (based on real-life scenarios) and that language was appropriate.

“Terminology around disability varies and agreeing on the use of some terms instead of others was an effort for all partners involved.”

She added: “Wideaware were keen that disability was seen from a social model perspective and in fact it is the very first subject that participants are invited to explore as part of the guidance provided.”

Wideaware is now negotiating with the House of Lords to extend the e-learning to peers, several of whom have given the tool “glowing reviews”. It is also hoping to take the e-learning to local authorities.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said it was vital that democratic institutions were “accessible and inclusive of people with lived experience of disability or health conditions”.

She said: “Only in this way will we create the engagement that is necessary to ensure that our elected representatives can speak on our behalf and encourage disabled people to stand for elected office.”

19 March 2013